I've recently been involved in some random discussions over on /r/bjj that involved discussions of how often and how long people train each week, how much time is spent rolling vs drilling, whether people are hurting their progress by only training X amount of time per week, etc...
I train about 4 hours a week. Occasionally I manage to train 6 hours a week, and sometimes I can only train 2 or even 0 hours. And yet in the last 12 months I have improved to the point that I am rolling reasonably competitively with blackbelts and brownbelts who were absolutely clowning on me 12 months ago. The question becomes, 'How am I improving with so little training time?' and the answer is that I maintain a very tight focus when I am in class.
Very often I will see white and blue belts, even other purple belts, drill a technique four or five times, then spend a bunch of time randomly chatting, then maybe drill it a few more times, then it's time for the next technique. During that same interval I drill the same technique thirty times, or fourty, or fifty. When I'm talking it's about troubleshooting the technique with my partner. I am focused on drilling the technique as many times as possible, thinking through each step of the technique, building a mantra for completing it and ingraining it as much as I can during the time I have available.
This focus also translates to rolling. I have an overarching concept that I am working on each time. If you are familiar with my writing you will remember the 'Be More Assertive' project from a few years ago. That was the overarching theme to my training for a long time and is still a constant point for me to remember. My current focus is on transitioning from defense to offense. That means that I am willing to risk letting my opponent advance positions in order to switch from purely defending into an offensive attempt of some kind. I know my defense is good, now I need to make that switch.
Because I have that overarching concept to base my training on I roll with a focus on improving that aspect of my jiujitsu. I am constantly working towards a specific goal and not just rolling for the sake of rolling.
Focus is what leads to improvement when other people are plateaued. When I plateau I on a given concept I drill down. I recently plateaued on my defense to offense work because I was getting into halfguard and locking the position down and stalling without offense. Other places I was transitioning fine from defense to offense, but halfguard I was not. I made it a focus for several weeks to get halfguard and specifically work on generating space, created sweep opportunities, and really working on my ability to attack from halfguard and make it an offensive position. I have been able to break through my plateau because of that and continue to improve.
For people who are able to train 20 hours a week this isn't a big deal. You can spend so much time on the mats that you just get better by dint of training volume. For those of us who are stuck training 3-6 hours a week it's critically important that we are mindful of how we spend our time when we are on the mats if we want to improve.
- Don't screw around! If you are supposed to be drilling a technique then drill it as many times as you can. Pay attention to what you are doing and actively troubleshoot during the drill. Don't just go through the motions while you wait to roll.
- Have goals! Know why you are doing everything that you do. Don't get trapped into rolling just for the sake of rolling. Roll to improve.
- Drill down! If you plateau on your main goal break it down into smaller parts to look at and single one of those down to isolate and improve.
These things will help you make the best of your limited time and continue to improve, sometimes even better than people who are training more often.